Islamic Teachings about Disasters and Coronavirus
‘Disaster’ is defined as a sudden and great misfortune or calamity whereas an event or occurrence that provokes or triggers disaster is called ‘hazard’. It is a natural or manmade phenomenon that may cause physical damage and loss of lives, as well as economic loss or threaten human life and wellbeing if it occurs in an area of human settlement, agriculture or industrial activity.
There are three kinds of disasters or hazards, namely: natural hazards, manmade hazards and combination of both. Natural disasters are those caused by nature like drought, floods, volcanic eruption, tornados, earthquakes, tsunami and outbreak of pandemic like coronavirus and epidemics like diarrhoea, Ebola and dengue. Manmade disasters are associated with human activities such as arms race, Industrial Revolution, energy generation, designs of big powers for creating their hegemony, etc., and include wars or civil strife, law and order incidents, pollution or environmental hazards, nuclear radiations, etc. The third kind of disasters is a combination of natural and manmade hazards like earthquakes in developing countries. Owing to lack of preparedness and non-compliance of safety rules and building codes, earthquakes cause more losses in developing countries as compared to those in developed ones. In this case, coming of earthquakes is a natural factor and loopholes and shortcomings of human beings and insufficient state machinery are manmade factors. In the same way, outbreak of pandemics and epidemics in developing countries is a combination of natural and manmade disasters. People living in such countries are more vulnerable to the ‘demics’ due to unhygienic conditions as a large number of people in such areas defecate in open and their public buildings stink of stale urine and are littered with rubbish. Furthermore, these areas are awash with heaps of garbage and their people do not have access to clean potable drinking water. Such unpleasant things/practices are uncommon in developed countries.
Throughout history, human beings have confronted numerous disasters of all kinds. We find references to different disasters in the holy books of all religions. The Holy Quran is also replete with incidents of such disasters. Islam accentuates on protecting humanity from eternal disaster of hell they may face in the life after death, if they do not come to the right path as ordained by Allah Almighty. In the Holy Quran, there are references about nations of previous prophets that were obliterated due to disobedience of prophets and on account of their misdeeds. For instance, the nation of Prophet Noah (AS), including his son, was destroyed by the disaster of flash flood as they were adamant on not abandoning their false dogmas and wrong deeds. The nations of Aad and Smood have been mentioned many times in the Holy Quran. Allah Almighty sent Hazrat Hud (AS) for guidance of Aad but they refuted the right path and resultantly they were destroyed in a disaster of high winds. Hazrat Saleh (AS) was sent for guidance of people of Samood but they mocked the miracles and signs of Allah Almighty and, hence, they were destroyed through a shrill cry and tremor. The Holy Quran mentions also the nation of Hazrat Lut (AS) that was punished through the disaster of earthquake and rain of stones as they were practicing the evil deed of sodomy. Then there is also the mention of the nation of Hazrat Shoaib (AS) that indulged in highway robberies and weighing less. Allah Almighty sent flames of fire upon them and then the earth shook with a severe jolt and a shrill cry that finished them once and for all. Allah Almighty expressed His wrath on the people of Hazrat Musa (AS) in the shape of different disasters as mentioned in verse No.133 of Surah Araaf / Chapter The Wall with Elevation that states, “So We sent on them: the flood, the locusts, the lice, the frogs and the blood as manifest signs, yet they remained arrogant. They were of those people who were criminals. ”
Unfortunately all the vices owing to which people of previous prophets were obliterated are present in Muslims of present age in one way or another. But on account of supplications of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), we are safe from complete annihilation. However, the disasters of people of yore mentioned in the Holy Quran are clear signs and eye-openers for us, and those must make us realize that we may be meted out the same treatment if we followed in their footsteps as mentioned by Allah Almighty in verse 12 of Surah Al-Buruj / Chapter The Big Stars of the Holy Quran that states, “Verily, the seizure (punishment) of your Lord is severe and painful.” Narrated Abu Musa (RA): Allah’s messenger (PBUH) said,” Allah gives respite to a ZALIM (Wrong doer, oppressor) but when He seizes (catches) him, he never releases him.” (Bukhari)
Second aspect of disasters is that Allah Almighty inflicts disasters and trials on believers in order to test that whether they remain patient, perseverant and steadfast. That’s why Muslims, even during the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), faced disasters like drought. Then, during the reign of four Orthodox Caliphs, Muslims of certain areas faced differed kinds of disasters. For example, in 17 AH during the caliphate of second Caliph Hazrat Umar (RA), after the great conquest of Yarmook, Muslims faced a severe disaster of plague in Syria that took lives of about twenty-five thousand Muslims including great companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) like Hazrat Abu Ubaida bin Jarrah (RA) and Hazrat Ma’az bin Jabal (RA). In subsequent times too, Muslims of different areas have faced several disasters. Therefore, if Muslims of a specific area face a disaster, it does not mean that Allah Almighty is displeased with them and is pleased with the Muslims of other areas as we are not better than the companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and because of ups and downs present in life of everybody. In this regard, Allah Almighty says in first four verses of Surah Al-Balad / Chapter The City, “I swear by this city (Makkah). And you are free in this city. And by the begetter (i.e. Adam) and that which he begot (i.e. his progeny). Verily, We have created man in toil.” In the same way, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Allah forgives the sins of believers on account of grief and afflictions they face even for a thorn that penetrates their bodies.” (Masnad-e-Ahmed).” In this regard, Hazrat Isa (AS) said to his disciples: “The sweetness of this world is the bitterness of the hereafter and the bitterness of this world is the sweetness of the hereafter. Allah’s true slaves do not live in luxuries.”
Third aspect of disasters is that they must make believers realize their sins so that they could repent on those and seek forgiveness and mercy from Allah Almighty. In this regard, Allah Almighty says in verse 126 of Surah Tauba/Chapter The Repentance, “See they not that they are put in trial once or twice every year (with disasters or calamities), yet they turn not in repentance, nor do they learn a lesson.” So disasters can also be construed as warnings from Allah Almighty and must refresh the fear of Allah Almighty in our lives. In 9 AH, when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as the head of Islamic army was going towards Syria for the battle of Tabook, they passed by the area where the nation of Samud had faced the wrath of Allah Almighty in shape of severe disaster. At that moment, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) covered his face with cloth, started weeping, increased pace of his camel and told the companions (RA) to pass by such areas while trembling with fear and seeking forgiveness from Allah.
Islam is a religion of nature, so it is incumbent upon us to properly plan for averting disasters and for mitigating their effects as per the available means. The whole of Surah Yousuf is about disaster management wherein the strategy for slashing negative effects of drought has been elaborated. Similarly, Allah Almighty says in verse No.71 of Surah Nisa / Chapter The Women, “O you who believe, take all the precautionary measures.” In verse No. 195 of Surah Al-Baqara / Chapter The Cow, Allah Almighty says, “And spend in the cause of Allah and do not throw yourselves into destruction with your own hands and do good. Truly, Allah loves good doers.”
In consonance with the divine commandments, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) always took precautionary measures in every sphere of life. Once he (PBUH) went to the house of an ailing companion (RA) to inquire about his health. He (PBUH) asked him if he had consulted a doctor. He answered in affirmative and mentioned the name of the doctor. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) then mentioned the name of another doctor with the advice to consult him also. Similarly, once the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was taking oath of allegiance from people when he (PBUH) came into contact with a person who was suffering from contagious and infectious disease of leprosy. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) did not shake hand with him as a precautionary measure. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) told the Muslims to use all possible worldly means while doing legitimate tasks/practices and then to put trust in Allah as once he (PBUH) was sitting in a gathering when a companion (RA) reached there from a distant place and informed that he had come on a camel. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Where is the camel”? He said that he had left it at the disposal of Allah. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) asked him if he had tied camel’s legs. He answered in negative, so the Holy Prophet (PBUH) directed him to tie the legs of camel and then to leave it at the disposal of Allah Almighty.”
Now the whole world is in the grip of novel coronavirus or Covid-19 that has been declared as a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO) as it has taken a heavy toll in the form of human lives throughout the globe. It is our religious and national duty to do our best to protect ourselves and other people from this lethal infectious, contagious and viral disease by adhering to guidelines prescribed by the government and medical fraternity. At the same time, it is also our religious obligation to seek forgiveness from Allah Almighty and do as much good as possible. For that purpose, one of the best ways is to spend in charity and provide financial assistance to the poor in this hour of need as Allah Almighty says in verse No.92 of Surah Al-e-Imran / Chapter The Family of Imran, “By no means shall you attain piety unless you spend of that which you love.” Similarly, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “A generous Muslim is a friend of Allah Almighty even if (s)he has committed sins and a miser is the foe of Allah even if (s)he is an ardent worshipper.” So, it is incumbent upon us to follow all the safety and precautionary measures for staying safe from this fatal pandemic but, at the same time, it is also our responsibility to not create unnecessary hysteria and panic for ourselves as well as for other people because the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself.
The author is currently serving as Additional Director, National Institute of Management (NIM) Quetta. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org